It doesn’t matter what country you plan to visit, learning a bit of the local language is always a good idea. Not only can it be helpful to be able to ask where the bathroom is, but it can also help you make some local friends—people will always appreciate your efforts to speak their language.
I am not a polyglot (a person who is fluent in several languages), but I do dabble in many different languages and I think it’s super important to know at least a few important words or phrases in any given destination.
Whether you’re just looking to pick up a few key sentences for your next trip or you’re hoping to become completely fluent in a new language, here are seven tips that I have personally found super helpful (starting with my favorite language studies app!)
Use the Amazing Duolingo App!
Duolingo is what I used to help me learn Korean when I was living in Korea (2013-2014). It has been around for a long time, it’s an app that I trust, and it’s an app that I really enjoy using. (You can also find them on the web at duolingo.com if that’s more your style.)
This program is so fun! It’s a super interactive way to learn new languages, and it often feels more like a game than a study tool. It’s probably the best app that I could recommend for learning new languages in the most efficient way possible.
There is a free version, which is a great place to start off, but I personally prefer Duolingo Plus. It’s ad-free, has some additional features compared to the free version, and starts at just $6.99 a month (which is a really low price to pay for such a valuable tool!)
Carry a Journal With You
In the modern world, everything is digital. Cell phones, laptops, iPads…we’re used to using our technology for everything, but there is just something about putting pen to paper. I find that when I use a journal, I remember what I’ve written better; it somehow sends the information to my brain in a way that I’m less likely to forget.
When you’re learning a new language, there are certain really important verbs that you need to know, like “eating, walking, sleeping, drinking, going, to be,” etc.—these words are really important, so make sure you write them down! You’ll also need to know some general vocabulary words, especially the important, frequently used ones like “car, house, job, world, table, computer,” etc. If you can write all of these words down in a journal and master them, it will really be beneficial to you.
The journal is also good to use while you’re traveling in any country because you’re learning as you go. You can write down new words you learn, and you can also show it to anyone if you’re asking for help!
Plan a Visit to the Country
If you’re studying Spanish (for example), or if you want to learn Spanish, then plan a trip to Spain, or Equatorial Guinea, or somewhere in Latin America. If you want to learn Japanese, plan a trip to Japan! You will learn so much more when you’re immersed in the language than you would in a classroom, or just using something like Duolingo.
This tip can really take you a really long way toward learning a new language. Whether you study abroad, volunteer, or just go for a short visit, you can always pick up a language much more efficiently in the country where it’s natively spoken.
Be Observant, as Well as Confident
Notice everything around you!
When I used to live in Prague, Czech Republic, I picked up a bunch of the Czech language. I would just sit there and read all of the Czech around me—things like posters, signs, and magazine covers—just to try to figure out how to get to the next level. I would also watch movies in Czech with English subtitles. If I was in a coffee shop and there were people next to me speaking Czech I would literally try my best to figure out what they were saying, just for the language practice.
Be confident! You’re obviously not going to be fluent at the beginning, but if you’re confident when you open your mouth you can earn the respect of the locals. What’s the worst that could happen, you pronounce something wrong? Someone will correct you and say, “Hey, it’s actually pronounced this way.” It’s not a big deal!
Watch Movies in the Language
This is something that I always did when I lived in Prague, and it helped me pick up Czech really fast! I would watch movies in Czech with English subtitles because I learned by hearing the language being spoken.
Sidenote: try to watch movies that you already know, because you know what the lines are and you can hear how they’re expressing it. If you watch a brand new and confusing movie (like Inception) it’s going to be so hard to understand what’s being said if you don’t even know what’s happening in the movie. So find one of your favorite movies, and use it as a fun form of language practice!
Make Friends and Ask Questions!
If you’re not willing to ask questions, then how are you ever going to learn? There’s no such thing as a bad question. If you don’t know if you’re saying something right, ask! Take a breath, be confident, and ask for help.
If you want to learn the local language, you need to make local friends (a main theme of this course, if you haven’t noticed!) A local friend will help you with everything you need, and most of the time they will want to learn or practice their English—so it’s a win-win!
This is what I did when I lived in Korea, I made a bunch of Korean friends who tried to learn English, and I tried to learn Korean. It was perfect!
The Most Important Part Is Trying
Let me know if there’s something that’s helped you learn a new language that I didn’t list here. There are so many different language helps out there, but these are the ones that have helped me the most!
Learning a new language can feel super intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. With incredible tools like Duolingo, some local friends, and a little bit of confidence, you can be well on your way to learning a new language in no time.